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Reading strategies

To stay on top of your reading, you’ll need to combine good reading strategies with effective work habits.

Use good reading strategies

The secrete to managing all your reading?  Don’t read every word.

It’s impossible to read every word of all the readings you are assigned. The good news is that you don’t have to read everything to be a successful student. Instead, figure out what readings you should prioritize and then use strategies to read more efficiently.

How to figure out what to read

In general, you want to prioritize the readings that your professor believes are the most important.

Office hours— Go to office hours frequently even if you don’t have a specific question. You can learn a lot listening to what your professor shares with other students and it helps demonstrate your commitment to learning. You can also ask your professors for guidance regarding what readings to prioritize by asking questions like:

What reading gives the best overview of _____?

I really want to leave this course feeling strong in my understanding of ______(subject of course). What readings should I spend the most time diving deep into?

Are there some key readings that I should make sure I understand really well?

What readings would you recommend that I spend the most time on as I prepare for the test?

Talk to your TA— You can ask the same questions to your TA. Often, TA’s have more availability to help. They also may be involved in writing your exams.

Listen to cues from your professor— Professors will sometimes tell you directly or indirectly what to read.

Direct instructions on what to prioritize often occur at the beginning or end of the class. If you are late to class or need to leave early, make sure to check in with a classmate to see if there were any instructions you missed.

Indirect cues can include:

Phrases such as “this was/will be covered in your ____ reading.”

Repeatedly referencing a specific reading or author.

Informing you about what the focus will be for the next class (you can then look at your syllabus to assess what readings seem most relevant to that focus).

Fill the gaps in your knowledge — If there is a particular concept that you are having trouble grasping, prioritize reading that relates to it.

Read efficiently

The key to reading efficiently:

Start with getting a broad overview of what will be covered in the reading. This will allow you to determine what content you can skim and what content you need to review more thoroughly.

Next, skim to flesh out the overview.

Then read key concepts more intensively.

Read summaries first

Summaries highlight the main concepts in the reading. Always start by reading the summary. Sometimes the summary occurs at the end of the reading and sometimes it occurs in the beginning.

Textbooks— Summaries are located at the end of each chapter and include key concepts and terms covered in the chapter. Start with these. Then you can read the headings in the chapter. This will give you a framework for what will be covered.

Research articles— The abstract (the short paragraph at the beginning of the article) provides the most concise summary of the article. Start there. Then review the discussion or conclusion section at the end of the article. After this, you can skim the article starting with the introduction. If you are reading the article for the purposes of a dissertation or thesis, you may want to read the introduction more thoroughly as it often reviews related research and could be useful in identifying additional articles to review.

Essays— Often the introduction and conclusion paragraphs will cover the main points. It can be helpful to review both of these first. Keep in mind that conclusions can be more than one paragraph.

Book chapters–Some book chapters will have a summary paragraph. This is a great place to start. If the chapter does not have a summary paragraph, look to see if the introduction or concluding paragraphs provide a summary. You can also read the title of the chapter and then review the headings within the chapter. This will give you an outline of what will be covered. Often, subsections will have their own introduction and concluding statements.

Use the Accessible Instructional Materials Accommodation (if you have it)

The information listed here is for students with a psychological or learning disability who have an accommodation that converts written text into audio (i.e. converting a written textbook into an audio book) and are able to read the material visually.

In this method, an audio book is not a substitution for the physical text but rather a way of augmenting it.

First, try listening to audio books in your free time while you are doing chores, moving/exercising, or commuting. This will allow you to get an overview of the material.

Then, review the written version. Because you already have an overview of the material, you will be able to skim more effectively. You will also know which sections you found confusing and you can spend more time reading those. You can review key concepts in greater depth as well.

Listening to the audio prior to reviewing it visually also gives you repeated exposure to the material, which can increase your ability to recall the information later on during a study session or on the exam.

In summary, the audio version helps you get an overview so that you can read the written text more efficiently.

Work more effectively

Staying on top of your reading also requires planning enough time to complete your work and staying focused while you do it.

Make time for reading

The better you plan your time, the more of it you’ll have to allocate to your priorities.  An effective time management plan has two parts:

1) a quarter schedule where you track major deadlines and important dates

2) a short-term plan where you map out what needs to be done in the next 1-7 days

Additionally, your plan needs to be realistic. For tips on planning and time management, check out our section on academic planning.

Improve your focus

Sometimes the hardest part of reading is staying focused. We’ve got many tips to improve your ability to work effectively under our time management section.  In particular, we recommend checking out the following resources:

Additional reading strategies